Saturday, May 14, 2016
Innovation as a body practice nourished by the Prodigal Son
I spoke this morning at Central Presbytery, providing a keynote session on the topic of innovation as a body practice. It was a chance to continue to develop my thinking around being a church body built for change. With the final edits on my Built for Change book complete, each time I speak at the moment is a chance to try and take what is 53,000 written words and shape it into a spoken presentation. It is also a chance to explore the place of innovation and ministry within the Presbyterian Church, in particular their essential documents.
Before I talked, there was a short time of worship, followed by a Biblical reflection on the Prodigal Son. I was not aware of it in preparing and it was fascinating to stand to speak on my chosen topic, with that Scripture fresh in all our minds. The result was that there were two moments in my talk when what was said in the prior Biblical reflection became incredibly helpful.
First, in defining body practice. I had prepared to rift off John Swinton and Harriett Mowat (Practical Theology and Qualitative Research), and their insights on the shape of practical theology. But in reflecting on the Prodigal Son, the Bible study leader pointed to how the Prodigal Son, is given a ring, a robe and sandals. These, it was suggested, were physical symbols that would have helped the Prodigal Son understand their new identity. The statement was made:
“God’s gifts that help us see ourselves differently.”
It became an illuminating and helpful phrase. Body practices – confession, hospitality, discernment, listening to the stranger – begin with God, they are gifts. Body practices are about us; about how the church is the body of Christ. Body practices are things we do, and in that doing, we see ourselves differently. Thus they allow a theology on the road, a call to practice our way into God’s future and in doing so, expect to ourselves be changed.
Secondly, in reflecting on the Prodigal Son, the difference between shame and blessing was discussed. The Prodigal Son feels shame and as such, is likely to behave in certain ways. In contrast, as the Prodigal Son feels blessed, they are invited to behave differently.
This became a very helpful frame by which to consider how the church responds to change. What does a place of shame look like? Oh, we tried that before. Oh, I remember you from the past. Oh that wouldn’t work. What does a place of blessing look like? Welcome. Take a risk. Experience grace.
It was a rich experience to be able to work with innovation in the light of the Prodigal Son. It provided a fresh lens and opened up a rich set of conversations around people and processes in change.
Monday, April 04, 2016
Knox online mission teaching
Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership went online today. The topic focus was Mission and the church. Video conferencing was used to connect interns together and for two hours, Scripture was read, in conversation with readings from Newbigin and the context in which the intern is ministering.
First, traditional education tends to offer theory, which is then applied, often in an assignment. The Mission and the church class has a major assignment which involves working with a group from the local church over a number of weeks in exploring what God is up to in the local neighbourhood. The use of video conferencing was a way to try and place the local context more front and centre, in a different way than in a classroom. Essentially we have halved the face to face contact time and replaced it with in-context tutorials.
Second, some recent educational research has argued that the closer a student is to their context, the more likely they are to begin to experience change, as they seek to integrate content with their current lived experience. In other words, the face to face class removes a student from their context, while e-learning allows them to stay in context, increasing their range of connections they make.
Third, the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership internship offers three block course intensives a year. Providing online engagement in between intensives increases interaction between lecturers and interns. It also provides another way to strengthen relationships between interns. (“Is that what your office looks like” was one comment heard today).
Fourth, technology is an increasing part of life today, so it is good for interns (and lecturers) to be invited to learn and grow, to experience forming and being formed through digital means.
Fifth, online technology offers some avenues for Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership to be more engaged in training nationally, including connecting with those in rural areas. If we can do this with interns, could we down the track also do it with lay folk and ministers in context? So this type of experiment allows us to learn and grow, testing our capacity, exploring ways to enhance access to ministry and mission training.
Today had some hitches. As was to be expected. But the conversation I was part of was one of the most honest and sustained exploration of ministry and call that I have experienced in quite some years. To read Scripture, to pray and be prayed through digital technologies, was a rich experience.
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
Paul: the apostolic team builder
This is certainly consistent with how Paul leads. He is a team builder. Of the 13 letters that claim Pauline authorship in the New Testament, more than half (seven in total) are team efforts. Paul and Sosthenes write 1 Corinthians. Paul and Timothy write 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, while Paul, Silas and Timothy write 1 and 2 Thessalonians. The six letters written by Paul are Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus.
The book of 1 Corinthians is rich in alliances and networks, in which “All the brothers and sisters here send you greetings” (16:20). The letter is co-authored (1:1) and is the result of a report from Chloe’s household (1:11). Paul has baptised Crispus, Gaius (1:14) and the household of Stephanas (1:15). Paul exercises ministry alongside Apollos (3:5), Barnabas (9:6), Timothy (16:10) and Apollos and the brothers (16:12). Paul’s understanding of servant in chapters 3 and 4 is in the plural. The church is a body, with different gifts (12:4). Paul greets the household of Stephanas (16:15) and shares greetings from the churches in Asia, Aquila and Priscilla and their house church (16:19). He is grateful that his ministry has been “resourced managed” by Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus (“they supplied what was lacking” 16:17). This represents ten individuals, three house churches and three other groupings of churches. This is a connected leader enmeshed in alliances and networks.
(An excerpt from upcoming Built for change: innovation and collaboration in leadership).
Tuesday, December 22, 2015
Built for change chapter headings
The last few days have been flat out writing (This was the view from our upper deck yesterday evening). By Saturday I had a complete full draft of around 50,000 words, which allowed me to move into editing mode. As of a few minutes ago (big thanks to an eagle-eyed partner), the first four chapters of Built for Change (provisional title) are now with the publisher. I had hoped to do more, but Christmas deadlines and holidays take precedence. However, I’m very pleased with progress. It is a significantly better book than it was 6 weeks ago and now includes a theology of innovation – weaving Scripture, tradition and contemporary knowledge – that I think is genuinely new, emerging from reflection on lived experience, in particular seven stories of social entrepreneurship/not-for-profit innovation.
Here is a one paragraph summary – This book offers a practical theology of innovation. It emerges not from a place of theory but from a context of reality, a situation often considered resistant to change. Stories of change are told, including programmes for reconciliation, young adult formation, digital learning, creating a rural community cafe, urban community garden and a creative resource. In the telling is inspiration. Collaborative change is possible.
And here are the current chapter headings.
Built for change: a practical theology of innovation
Chapter 1 – Outro: Final chords
Part I – Leading outward
Chapter 2 – Built for change
Chapter 3 – Collaborative change
Chapter 4 – Learning in change
Bridge – Leading Deeply
Chapter 5 – Jesus the innovator
Chapter 6 – Traditions of innovation
Chapter 7 – A connectional theology of innovation
Part II – Leading inward
Chapter 8 – Leading myself
Chapter 9 – Limited leading
Chapter 10 – Leading reflectively
Chapter 11 – Intro: First chords
Friday, December 18, 2015
last trip of the working year
I took this photo at Paekakariki on Wednesday, to mark my last trip for the year, as I flew to Wellington for a day on Tuesday, then drove to Palmerston North on Wednesday. It is just over 9 weeks since I began as Principal at Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership and the trip this week enabled me to complete two important tasks.
First, connecting with intern churches. KCML trains using an internship model and the trip to Palmerston North meant that I have managed to connect with the six ministers and local church in which the incoming (class of 2016) interns will be placed. That has involved a local visit and three road trips – to Christchurch, Palmerston North, Rotorua and Tauranga. It has been such a good exercise to sit with local leaders and explore what it means for them to work with an intern and sense their passion and commitment to form leaders for the future church.
Second, connecting with Presbyteries. The trip this week means that I have managed some form of connection with each of the seven Presbyteries that make up the PCANZ. Working from the bottom up
- a welcome to the Southern Presbytery as I briefly introduced myself at Inspiring Mission, Dunedin;
- a welcome, introduction and Q and A with Alpine Presbytery in Christchurch;
- a lunch gathering with available ministers from Central Presbytery in Palmerston North, in which I shared some of what God might be calling us to in this next season as KCML;
- a visit to Te Aka Puaho, to share in worship and a cup of tea;
- a visit to two local churches in Kaimai Presbytery (with an invitation to speak in 2016);
- a meeting with key leaders from Northern Presbytery;
- engagement with folk from the Pacific Island Synod as part of the block course in Auckland;
Each connection has been different. This is as it should be, because each Presbytery is different and has different patterns of working and being. For me, these visits are only the beginning. A key part of the future of KCML will be forming training partnerships – each different – with each of these Presbyteries in the years ahead. But they represent, in the space of nine weeks, a good start in terms of being out and about around the country, connecting and beginning the conversations that will takes us forward in partnership.
Thursday, October 22, 2015
time to flourish: a theology of time management
The day lies open before me. It is gift, waiting to unwrapped.
How to fill it?
Appointments – these include the requests from outside to meet, greet, complain, engage. Each of these reach out to fill my day. When I think of appointments, I also include my to do list. As it lies open before me, it is also making appointments, marking my diary not with “Meeting” but with “Complete marking schedule.”
Crisis – something unexpected might happen. I recall days that have been consumed by funding crisis or relationship breakdown. The adrenaline surges and the crisis engulfs.
Routine – the comfort of habit. I settle today in what I did yesterday. Yet if I am honest, what I did yesterday was what I did last week, last month, last month, last decade. There is security in this, the rhythm of routine. But do I want my gravestone to be titled “lived by habit.”
Flourish – Psalm 1, the lectionary reading for today, suggests another approach. In verse 3
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
Which got me thinking about the shape of flourishing. I suspect what it means for me to flourish might be different from what it means for you to flourish. My role, my skills, my context, invite a particular set of fruit.
The Psalm mentions not only fruit, but leaves. Like fruit, leaves also are particular, shaped by seasons. Again comes the reminder that my season is different than your season. So to flourish, in fruit and foliage, is unique, an individual fingerprint.
This requires some work, some intentionality. What might my fruit be? I began to journal, a rough draft. A flourishing Principal will
- ensure continuous quality improvement in learning and forming
- be careful, competent, yet creative with resources (buildings, people, systems)
- connect with stakeholders in ways that serve the church of tomorrow
- think (research and write) in ways that take the organisation they serve back to the future
In doing this work, I find that the gift that is my day now has some shape. It might well be expressed in appointments, in responding to crisis, in routine. But my day, my time mangement, is now more that the sum of its parts. To grow fruit takes time. The deliberate application of fertiliser, the careful pruning, the commitment to thin appropriately. And so the gift of today is now shaped – by what it means for me and my organisation to flourish.
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
“It takes a church to raise a minister.” Discuss
Today at our first staff meeting as a KCML (Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership) team, I began with a statement for ongoing discussion.
I pointed out how, given our recent move across the ditch, our endings and beginnings, how acutely aware we were of relationships. This is well-captured in the saying – it takes a village to raise a child. Healthy communities offer a wide range of relationships, which at all sorts of different levels, can contribute to growth. That’s the positive take. Equally, unhealthy communities offer a range of relationships, which, because of their lack, or because of their bite, can contribute to decline.
Pondering relationships, their fragility and vitality, I began to wonder if the proverb – it takes a village to raise a child could be applied to forming ministers. Is it that it takes a church to raise a minister? If so, what are the implications for us at KCML?
So today, at our team meeting, I introduced the statement. I invited discussion by offering one Biblical character (not telling who :)). Together as a team we had a very fruitful and rich conversation, one shaped by Scripture and placed alongside a set of living case studies, one that enabled all the team to contribute, one that led naturally into prayer and our business together.
As a result, we decided that in the coming weeks, we would keep exploring the question. We will take turns, each week, to bring a Biblical character or person in history. And we’ll see where the conversation goes, and what it might mean for us, for ministers and for the church.
Feel free to join us
1. What Biblical character or person in history would you introduce?
2. What insight might they bring to the statement – it takes a church to raise a minister?
3. What might be the implications today – for churches, for theological colleges, for ministers and those training and those considering training?
(in the comments)
Thursday, October 01, 2015
Today we leave Australia, after nearly 6 years of placement with the South Australian Synod of the Uniting Church of Australia. First, as the founding Director of Missiology. It was such a gift to be invited to provide leadership in mission in what was a new venture for the College, seeking to teach theology and church history through the lens of the mission of God. Over 2 and a half years, a new Bachelor of Ministry was developed, including a pioneer track. A missional masters cohort was established and mission-shaped ministry begun.
Second, as Principal of Uniting College. Over 3 years, as a team, a wide range of changes were implemented. These included a move to blended learning across all our topics, a CALD teaching cohort, a Big Year Out young adult discipleship experience, 8 vocational specialisations in the Diploma of Ministry, a Chaplaincy Co-ordinator, a much improved financial and strategic position, a re-negotiated relationship with Flinders University and the planting of an inter-state hub. Much of my learnings from this season are being processed in the upcoming book, Built for change: Innovation and Collaboration in leadership.
Yesterday once the packers had emptied my office, removed every last book, file and paper clip, I walked the outdoor labyrinth for the last time. It was in the labyrinth that the call to be Principal had sounded – literally. So it somehow felt fitting that the call to be Principal should end in the labyrinth as, office empty, I took time to process – Solvitur Ambulando “It is solved by walking”.
There was nothing profound. Just a deep sense of gratitude. That the God who calls, provides. That the twists and turns of life are in God’s hands. That all I need to do is take the next step. In this case, onto an airplane, and into a new season, as Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership.
Thursday, September 03, 2015
Built for change: Innovation and collaboration in leadership book contract
I was delighted last week to sign a book contract with Mediacom for what will be my second book, tentatively titled “Built for change: innovation and collaboration in leadership.”
It will be a book about innovation. There are many books of theory about innovation and many books from overseas about leadership. (Hence I deliberately sought out a local ie Australasian publisher). I want to write a book that emerges from a context of reality, from a real life situation of change. (Mainly the last three years as Principal of Uniting College). I want to provide some practical stories of change and then consider them, first with the wisdom of hindsight, second with the theological probing that is the gift of the Christian tradition.
I hope the book offers an understanding of change that is both practical and possible, in ways that celebrate collaboration, enhance equality and make access possible.
It is a project I’ve been mulling over for the last few months. My first days writing in June is described here. As I processed the shape of the project over two days in July with my supervisor, I asked myself “Why write?.”
Tuesday, July 28, 2015
Creative renewal through action
I’m speaking this Friday, 6 pm, 31 July, Burnside Uniting Church. Here’s the blurb
Rev Dr Steve Taylor is a world leader in missional thinking and sadly is leaving Australia to return to New Zealand in
August(September actually) this year. We are indeed very fortunate Steve has agreed to lead our next metro Gathering teaching sessions.
Creative renewal is only possible through action. What actions lead to renewal?
I will be reflecting on leadership lessons from my years as Principal at Uniting College and offering some reflection on the Uniting church into the future. (If I can find the words. I’m still quite unclear on how I want to say what I want to say.)
Friday, July 03, 2015
Today is a second day of study leave, a few days in which I am seeking to write about, and reflect upon, my learnings in leadership from recent years of ministry.
I am in the Blue Mountains, surrounded by bush and quiet. I am staying with my supervisor, who continues his delightful ministry of naming reality, asking provocative questions, helping me circle around my worlds, both inner and outer.
The Old Testament lectionary reading for today, and in particular four phrases, proves strangely clarifying.
I will stand at my watch-post
Write the vision
Make it plain
So that a runner may read it.
Let me explore these phrases from the bottom back up to the top.
I write for a person. A runner. For individuals and teams, whether wondering, willing, or wanting, running the journey of innovate. I write that they might run sustainably, strategically. I want to offer them some signs that point to processes of innovation that have reality, integrity, creativity and a deep compassion and care for people and places.
I write with a purpose. I seek to avoid fancy words, clever theories and quick quotes from leadership heroes. Instead, with honesty and integrity, I want to make as plain as possible the real life learnings from innovation. I want to share stories that offer hope. Organisations do change. People do grow. Resources can be aligned. Access can be enhanced.
I write by choosing to stand at the watchpost. Rather than look forward, rather than theorise, I choose to look back, to particularise. In standing, I find myself slowing and as I slow, I feel once again the particular emotions, demands and experiences of leading an organisation in a complex system in a rapidly changing world. It is hard to stand. It is hard to lead. It is costly to innovate. Yet such is the place from which these words, these leadership learnings, must emerge.
Monday, June 22, 2015
lightbulbs and 10 year olds: innovation and communication.
I was shown this image on Friday. It was suggested as a summary of some group work that I was a part of.
A lightbulb has gone off. An important and significant discovery has been made. But that is not enough. We need to think about how to communicate that lightbulb moment.
In this image, this means getting down the ladder and going across to the watching child. We need to ask ourselves “How would we tell a 10 year old?” This is an important communication exercise, in which seek to clarify our ideas by asking how we communicate this light bulb moment to a 10 year old.
There is that old joke. How many people does it take to change a light bulb? The answer is meant to be one.
But how realistic is that? It is hard for one person to do, most especially for the person closest to the lightbulb. It is their idea and its natural to be blinded by the brilliance.
So in this image, and in the work on Friday, a number of us were working together. Some were offering creativity, others listening ears, others structuring and framing. It adds an interesting perspective on the task of innovation. It is not enough to have a bright idea. There is another whole piece around communication and collaboration of that idea. Innovation must be shared. It might begin with one, but there are many gifts involved in this process.
Who is the leader in this description? Is it the one person who has had the “lightbulb” moment? Is it the child, who is providing an essential role in helping clarify? Is it the people around, encouraging, listening, reframing?
In reality each person is performing an essential role. Each person is offering leadership. Because it does take many people to change a lightbulb.
Friday, June 05, 2015
We’re built for change
In just under four months, I conclude as Principal of Uniting College and shift countries to begin as Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership. This has a lot of implications personally and professionally.
Professionally, I lead a team of 17 people. An essential dimension of my leadership includes helping them process transitions. This means that a challenge of the next few months includes helping them process my transition.
It is always more complicated leading your own transition. It is tempting to envisage working until the last day, closing the door and slipping out, leaving behind a to do list for the incoming. But that would be remiss of my leadership not to include this personal focus. It would point to a set of values that sit in opposition to a culture of communal innovation. It would work against a culture “built for change.”
So I have spent a number of months with my supervisor and line manager thinking through how to lead through this particular transition.
Yesterday I initiated with the team a conversation about the transition. Let me tell you what I did and what emerged. But first, let me share with you the structures that influence the timing. (more…)
Sunday, May 31, 2015
leadership formation: an indigenous experiment in oral learning
I have been working with a group of indigenous ministers over the last 6 months, praying about what Aboriginal leadership development might look like amongst the Aboriginal churches in Adelaide. This week we participated in the following learning experiment.
First, welcome. We begin with worship, with song written by a gifted, local, indigenous leader.
Second, Biblical immersion. We hear the Scripture. We hear again, tracing the Scripture onto our hands. We hear the Scripture for a third time, drawing the Scripture onto a blank hand. Together, using ears, hands, eyes, we immerse ourselves in ancient story. The hope is that this bypasses writing and text. It returns us to the Scriptures as aural. This connects with those who have highly developed skills in ways of learning other than Western.
Third, working with the story. In Adnyamathanha culture, we learn from a story by asking three questions. What is the rule for living? What does this tell us about the environment? What do we learn about the supernatural? We apply these indigenous questions, asking each other what we learn about God, about ministry, about life? The discussion is rich.
Fourth, we hear the story again. Each of us are given a blank hand, which we hold. The immersion in Scripture, the discussion together, is gathered into a single question on a single blank hand. We ask ourselves – what do I most need to learn from this story? Who can I learn from?
This is our homework. We will connect our learning journey with our wider community. Next time we gather, we will come enriched by the wisdom of our ancestors. This will become our “assessment.” We will re-tell the story, enriched both by our discussion together and our seeking out of wisdom from our wider community.